Bitter greens debate: Ought to burritos include lettuce?
Since opening in 2017, Mi Tocaya Antojeria has turn into one in all Chicago’s most acclaimed Mexican eating places, choosing up a Bib Gourmand from Michelin and incomes chef Diana Dávila a few James Beard Award nominations for Greatest Chef: Nice Lakes.
If something, I believe the restaurant continues to be underrated. Right here you’ll discover meals like nowhere else within the nation, as Dávila attracts inspiration from conventional Mexican dishes whereas incorporating Midwestern components and a sprinkling of fine-dining finesse. So it would shock you to be taught that one dish that has been a fixture for the reason that starting is a straightforward-sounding steak burrito.
The burrito in query even has lettuce in it, which is seemingly a really contentious addition. Any time I put up a photograph of a burrito containing lettuce on social media, I obtain messages from involved commenters throughout this truthful nation, together with an astonishing quantity from California. Didn’t I understand that lettuce wilts into mush inside a scorching burrito? What sort of felony would do such a factor?
Once I requested Dávila about lettuce probably being a contentious burrito addition, she not solely disagreed however doubled down. “Truly, I’m an additional lettuce particular person,” Dávila mentioned. “I just like the crunch, and I believe it tastes actually good.” Her solely caveat is that burritos with lettuce must be eaten instantly. By no means get one delivered.
The lettuce-loaded burrito on Mi Tocaya’s menu additionally has a particular significance for Dávila as a result of it’s a nod to the one served at her dad and mom’ south suburban taqueria. She lavished particular consideration on Mi Tocaya’s model, marinating the meat in beer and crafting her personal umami-packed seasoning mix. “I additionally added double steak as a result of I keep in mind these guys who would at all times are available in and order further meat,” Dávila mentioned. This additionally helps clarify why the steak burrito at Mi Tocaya prices $25.60; it will possibly feed two exceptionally hungry individuals.
However she additionally wished it to look and style like burritos normally do in Chicago, which meant holding the usual fillings. “I really feel like a Chicago burrito just about at all times has beans, lettuce, cheese and tomato,” Dávila mentioned. “I took out the tomato, however the remainder is there.”
Beans, lettuce, cheese and tomato are the commonest burrito fillings in Chicago, and I’ve the info to again it up.
I did what any rational particular person would do and created a spreadsheet, appeared up 100 Mexican eating places identified for his or her burritos and cataloged all of the fillings that got here normal with an order. (Clearly, you possibly can personalize your burrito order, discarding the beans and including triple lettuce when you so need, however I used to be involved in what got here routinely.)
The vast majority of burritos I examined featured refried beans (69/100), lettuce (75/100), cheese (75/100) and tomato (69/100), with bitter cream (55/100) barely behind. One discovering that significantly jumped out to me was that solely 12 of the 100 eating places routinely embody rice.
So why have been all of the Californians irate about lettuce if it’s such a standard element? In any case, you’ll discover romaine lettuce at nationwide burrito chains like Chipotle and Qdoba.
What was left to do however create one other absurdly lengthy spreadsheet? This time I logged the usual burrito fillings throughout the nation by choosing 5 to 10 of the preferred burrito eating places within the largest cities in the USA. Since I couldn’t eat in all of those locations, I relied on a mixture of suggestions from native newspaper articles, Eater lists and social media websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. (In a dream world, somebody would pay me to eat burritos throughout the nation, however till that magical day, this should do.)
The outcomes have been shocking. Commonplace burrito fillings change dramatically throughout the nation. Whereas there are exceptions in all places, on the whole, the farther north one strikes from our southern border, the extra components be a part of the celebration. Each El Paso, Texas, and Phoenix include quite a few burrito spots the place fillings are largely shunned in favor of saucy stewed dishes like chicharron en salsa verde and chile Colorado. (For the document, I am keen on this stripped-down type.)
Maybe no state showcases how a lot normal burrito fillings can fluctuate than California. Down in San Diego lots of the burritos lack each rice and beans, favoring cheese, bitter cream and, maybe most shocking to outsiders, french fries. (That is usually referred to as a California burrito.) Head north to Los Angeles, and beans now appear to be a requirement, although rice isn’t. By the point you attain San Francisco, the burritos virtually at all times have beans and rice, with many eating places layering on cheese, bitter cream, avocado, cilantro and onion.
However one ingredient that’s robust to seek out in all three cities is lettuce. That is true for different West Coast cities like Seattle and Portland. Lettuce reveals up very often in Texas’ two largest cities, Houston and Dallas. The one different locations the place lettuce popped up semi-regularly have been Philadelphia, New York Metropolis and Washington, D.C., cities not precisely identified for his or her burrito-making prowess. (Oddly, when you hold transferring up the East Coast, lettuce appears to vanish in Boston.)
I ought to cease right here to narrate that there are such a lot of exceptions that I might spend all day pointing them out. La Taqueria, essentially the most acclaimed burrito spot in San Francisco, doesn’t add rice, and in Phoenix, you will discover burritos full of rice and beans.
Even in Chicago, there’s a shocking quantity of selection. Each La Pasadita and Carbon Reside Fireplace Mexican Grill’s steak burrito comes with nothing else however onions and cilantro. There’s not even a smear of refried beans. It’s additionally getting extraordinarily simple to seek out California burritos, the french-fry-stuffed type hottest in San Diego, due to locations like Diego, Jarabe, Cruz Blanca and Invicto. It was even the October particular at Huge Star.
Plus, whereas Chicago isn’t anyplace close to the Mexican border, a few of my favourite burritos come from eating places that wish to the delicacies of Northern Mexican states like Sonora and Durango. Go to Gorditas La Tia Susy, Gordillas and Taqueria El Duranguito and also you’ll discover flour tortillas smeared with possibly a little bit of refried beans however that’s it. (These three locations additionally make their flour tortillas from scratch, which is another excuse why I choose this type.) Even when you hate lettuce, there’s a burrito in Chicago for you.
However is lettuce actually that unhealthy? I was 100% towards the inclusion, agreeing that lettuce wilts into mush subsequent to scorching carne asada or carnitas. After chatting with Dávila, I’ve had a change of coronary heart. One peculiarity is that there does appear to be a minimal quantity of lettuce required. If solely a small handful is added, the lettuce isn’t any match for the new meat. But when added in the proper amount, lettuce provides an plain cooling crunch.
Go to a burrito establishment like El Faro in suburban Summit, and also you’ll discover a fixed stream of individuals pouring in to seize a bulging burrito that prices lower than $10. It appears to be like comically oversize, however as a substitute of an awesome heap of beef, there’s a stability of beans, lettuce, tomato and cheese. Every chew is creamy, juicy, salty, cooling, savory and, due to some potent salsa, very spicy.
The Chicago-style burrito might not be significantly stylish in the intervening time, and as different kinds of burritos acquire traction, it would wane much more. It definitely isn’t my most popular type (do I’ve to clarify once more how a lot I like the Northern Mexican type?) however for many individuals who have been raised in Chicagoland, a burrito stuffed to the breaking level with meat, beans, lettuce, tomato and cheese will at all times maintain a particular significance.